“Me and my brother stayed up late watching an Inconvenient truth and I just cried and cried and I said, ‘if I don’t do anything about it, everyone else is going to cry as well; so I made a commitment to do something about it”
These were the words of Itzcuauhtli Roske-Martinez, a 9-year-old environmental activist and proud young Aztec from Boulder Colorado I met recently at Youth Blast. As the Rio+20 negotiations roll along with the urgency of…old people, I thought it was well and truly time to highlight the ambition of Youth.
As negotiations here at Rio+20 have turned into an overinflated self-promotion fiesta for the world’s leaders, I thought it was about time that I share with you the most amazing young visionary I have ever met. Oh yeah, and that’s not a mistake, he’s 9!
When I sat down with Itzcuauhtli, I was in awe of what he had to say. But even more, there was a spirit behind his words. It was almost as if he spoke with the wisdom of a man as old as the Aztec culture he so proudly maintains.
“It was 4 years ago”. So he must have been about 5 or 6 at the time.
But he describes that night as one in which he made a lifelong commitment to protecting the environment “because all life is sacred”.
On that night, Itzcuauhtli and his 12 year old brother Xiuhtezcatl decided that they would make a commitment to protect the environment. That is when they re-started the Earth Guardians, a project and a commitment to protecting the environment that had been passed down three generations in their family. Since then, their group has made changes on the local and global scale.
They started on a park close to home, where their local government was just about to introduce 3 new types pesticide. Xiuhtezcatl and Itzcuauhtli knew that this would affect the health of all the children who would use the park. As a result they staged a group mobilisation around the park, where more than one hundred people were involved.
As you can understand, this much advocacy can sometimes cut into their school time. But when asked by his teacher why he had been missing so much school, Itzcuauhtli simply responded with another question:
“do you care about children? Because I do so much that I can’t let this happen”.
At this stage in the conversation, Itzcuauhtli felt a little “lost for words”. But soon after Xiuhtezcatl came up behind and reassured him that “you’ll get used to it,” as if by the age of 12, he had come to terms with more in the world than me.
But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. “From this event the Earth Guardians were born again;
“We got in touch with all the people who came to the rally, and just invited them to our house and asked them; do you want to start this?”
From here, these two young boys have led the Earth Guardians to protest against GMO food, encouraged renewable energy in their local community, and are currently involved in advocacy campaign against hydrolic fracking, and a legal battle to protect the atmosphere against the lack of governmental responsibility and reform. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing:
“We were at the GMO rally with local government, and we were talking to a lot of people at the rally until this lady started yelling at us because ‘kids aren’t allowed to talk and, and she started yelling at us because ‘kids aren’t allowed to talk’…and then after that the legal case was thrown out”
At this point, it would be reasonable to think that they might give up, but it was the strength of Xiuhtezcatl and their commitment to each other and to the earth which has encouraged them on.
“ My brother said even if we didn’t get something passed, we will keep fighting either way, and it’s hard because we’re making a commitment…but it’s incredible to have a feeling that you are doing something”.
Nowadays the movement has grown and while they still struggle hard to improve their local environment, they have also branched out on a global scale.
“Back in Colorado, we have a huge map of the whole world and we put a flag on every place where people want to start another Earth Guardian group. You should see it now!”
And this week, Itzcuauhtli and Xiuhtezcatl have come to Rio+20 to “tell the youth they have the power to make a change”.
But what I really loved about talking to these two, is that they are not just your standard environmental activists. They are rappers too; writing all their own songs together, and turning their passion for the environment into environmentally conscious hip hop.
Fortunately, I was able to film a secret live performance they gave after speaking to Youth Blast. But up until now, I am still having some technical difficulties. So until I figure those out and I am able to upload the live feed, here’s something they prepared earlier:
With a performance like this, it would be easy to forget that Xiuhtezcatl is only 12, and Itzcuauhtli is only 9. They are both extremely idealistic, passionate and driven, and I think they are exactly what the global youth and environmental movement needs to transform contemporary power inequalities.
When I asked where their belief comes from, they responded together:
“We just love being in nature”
And when I asked Itzcuauhtli about his dreams for the future, he answered in a way that reminded me of the simple power of reconnecting with nature:
“My favourite animal is a monkey, it’s called mico, and I heard about this lady who went to live with gorillas and when I read about what is happening to them, I got so sad for them. Some of them have their hands cut off and used for ash trays. So what I want to do is to go into the rainforest and take in endangered species and repopulate them”
So I guess the question is, could Itzcuauhtli be a Jane Goodall in the making? Or will Itzcuauhtli and Xiuhtezcatl take the hip hop world by storm with their message of protecting the environment?
In any case, they have given me a ray of hope amidst the dreariness of the negotiations. As I said in an earlier article, this Rio+20 conference has really confirmed for me the reality that people are getting closer and closer to being able to take on the responsibilities of government, and governments are comming closer and closer to irrelevance. It is still a long way away, but the world is changing everyday.
Thanks to my meeting with Itzcuauhtli and Xiuhtezcatl, I am now very proud about the outcomes of Rio+20. It is not that Rio+20 has decided a new common future, but that the future leaders are begining to realise their need to create it.
That’s why Rio+20 will remain relevant for me, there may not be ambition in the text, but it is everywhere else.
If you want to learn more about Itzcuauhtli or his older brother Xiuhtezcatl, or listen to some more of their songs, I can’t encourage you more to visit their website http://earthguardians.org/
About the authorChris Wright
Climate researcher, political ecologist, activist and an award-winning slam poet from Australia.